After the Nuggets failed a game-two gut-check against the OKC Thunder, I wrote that Denver needed to make a statement in the next matchup to have any chance to win the playoffs series. Well, the Nugs did so in Saturday's 97-94 loss, all right. They let everyone know they're not ready to contend yet -- and that changes must be made.
Truth be told, I dismissed a lot of the chatter about the Nuggets needing a go-to guy at crunch time in order to threaten the Thunder. After all, Carmelo Anthony hardly made every shot with the game on the line -- and besides, one player after another had delivered as the season wound down, suggesting that plenty of Nugs were capable of stepping up on any given night.
But the series to date has shown that expecting this to continue in the postseason was overly optimistic, especially against competitors as talented as Kevin Durant and company. New York Knicks imports like Raymond Felton and Wilson Chandler suddenly seem incapable of hitting twine under any circumstances, let alone from distance, and longer-term Nuggets haven't displayed the requisite patience offensively. Instead of swinging the ball until someone has an open look, as they were doing during the regular campaign, ballers aplenty are heaving up contested attempts early in the shot clock, then failing to rebound the ball to produce additional opportunities.
And then there's J.R. Smith, who whined before the game about his lack of playing time and the diminishing chances of him re-upping with the Nugs during the fast-approaching off-season. The Nuggets came back from an eight-point second-half deficit thanks in part to a big three by J.R. But after this make, a switch flipped in J.R.'s brain -- the one that convinces him that he can make any shot from anywhere on the floor!
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The result? Six consecutive misses thanks to one moronic, ill-advised stroke after another. And while Smith subsequently hit another pair of threes late to give the Nuggets an opportunity to tie at the buzzer, his attempt to do the deed himself was flat-out embarrassing. He clearly had no chance and should have kicked out to someone else. But anyone who's watched J.R. in recent years knows his hands are at least as sticky as Melo's. Hence, a desperation heave that had less than no chance for success.
Yes, J.R. wanted the ball, and that's something, anyhow. But he's not the answer for what ails the Nuggets. They must have a number-one scoring option, and while Ty Lawson is capable of achieving this status, he's not there yet -- and neither is Danilo Gallinari, who's seemed borderline out-of-control most of the time he's been on the court of late. The team clearly needs another scorer -- one who can be counted on to create points when victory is in the balance.
The squad can start looking for one soon, given that the season will be over for them mighty soon -- if not after game four tonight, then before the week is out.
More from our Sports archive: "Denver Nuggets-Oklahoma City Thunder playoffs matchup: The mighty vs. the many."